Air travel can be a challenge and airlines have not made it any easier in recent years. Instead of inventing ways to facilitate the process they seem to be complicating it.
Times are tough for everyone, so all the new fees for baggage, meals, and sometimes even beverages may make the airlines a few extra dollars but they also cause passengers to invent creative ways to circumvent these additional charges. This will be a series of articles on the trials and tribulations of airline travel, starting with one of my pet peeves – baggage.
With the advent of baggage fees, people now bring more items on board. It means the overhead bins are jammed to the gills. This causes a ripple effect that makes boarding and deplaning more time consuming and occasionally perilous when someone who can’t lift or hold their bag sends it crashing down on your head. (If you can’t lift it over your head – check it!)
I normally check a bag, despite the fees, to avoid the overhead battles, and also because I normally have a laptop case and it won’t fit under the seat unless you’re in a middle seat (which almost no one intentionally chooses). However, after being charged an obscene $150 for a third checked bag on a Continental international flight, I too am looking for ways to economize (I would be gone an extended period – I wasn’t just over packing). This is especially disheartening when I get to the gate only to have them announce free checked baggage as they look around and realize everyone’s carryon items will never fit in the overheads.
The message they are sending is if you follow the guidelines and check your bags up front, you will essentially be punished by a fee; therefore, try to bring everything on board, and chances are they’ll check it for free. People should not be penalized for trying to do the right thing.
There are signs and rules posted all over about not only carryon size limits, but the proper way to place a roller bag in the overhead, accompanied by verbal announcements by airline staff while boarding, but people either aren’t listening, can’t read, or are generally arrogant enough to believe these policies don’t apply to them.
Despite the written and verbal advice folks still put their roller bags in sideways, taking up twice the space they should; put more than one item in the overhead; or think their jacket should have a space of its own, even though each overhead bin is supposed to be shared by six to nine passengers. Because the space between seats has shrunk, people are reluctant to put anything at their feet, either. Unless you’re at or under 5’ tall, deep vein thrombosis is a real threat if you place an item under the seat in front of you where your legs would normally have their wiggle room.
It’s extremely rare when an airline employee enforces any of the size or quantity rules. Nearly every flight I’m on there is someone with a roller bag that would not fit in the metal sizing display they have at the gate, yet the only time I saw that rule enforced in the United States was briefly after 9/11; though I do see it occasionally overseas.
As my income shrinks, not unlike the airlines, I was recently “working the system” by trying to save the $70 second checked bag fee on an international flight (for a miniature 17” model suitcase), fully expecting to check it for free at the gate. Needless to say, I was shocked when confronted at the airport prior to entering the security line about having two carryons and a purse. I was able to shove my purse into one of the carryons, but was annoyed to see at least two other people with three items standing in the same security lines. It’s rare that I don’t’ see someone with three items boarding a plane – primarily business travelers, but also people who have purchased items inside the airport. If the rules are going to be enforced, they it should be across the board for everyone at every check point.
A little common sense, common courtesy, and common application of rules and policies would go a long way towards improving air travel and passenger satisfaction, and would likely make the jobs of the flight attendants easier, as well.
How can budget airline Southwest still continue to offer free checked bags? There are a number of things I do not like about Southwest airlines, but they certainly know how to manage their finances better than the bigger airlines. Instead of nickel and diming passengers to death, maybe the big airlines should take a closer look at how Southwest can offer free checked baggage and still turn a profit.